by Ramanan Sivaranjan on December 02, 2020
I am wondering if I should set up Kingdom Death and play a campaign. I just can’t imagine running all four characters. On the other hand this seems like the ideal time to play. - Me, March 28th, 2020.
Almost exactly a year prior my friends and I met and started a new campaign. I hadn’t opened the box since, having other things to occupy myself and my time. But now it was March and everyone was trapped at home. I was trapped with an expensive-as-all-hell board game designed so it could be played solo. This was my time! Two weeks later I laid out the game on the floor of my office and started playing.
The previous campaign my friends and I played ended in tragedy during Lantern Year 11, the few survivors of Lion’s Fall succumbing (ironically) to a White Lion. We played that campaign over 2 years, give or take, meeting every few weeks and then months. 11 sessions over the course of 2 years is a very leisurely pace. In April I was playing daily, making it to Lantern Year 20 in about two weeks! This was frantic!
My pace slowed down slightly. I beat the previous big boss of the game, the Watcher in May. I beat the final version of The Butcher, one of the tougher nemesis monsters shortly after. And then I paused and went outside. It was the summer. (I mean, I also played a ton of GRIMLITE, honestly.)
But I wasn’t done. In October the weather was getting colder, and the siren song of this game returned. My settlement was quite decimated after facing the Watcher and the Butcher. I had a handful of survivors, old and battered, and a handful of survivors too young and fresh faced to face the monsters I needed to fight. Each fight was now hours of careful strategy, usually ending in death. My settlement was marching to its end. I messaged some friends:
Lantern Year 27: A plague infects the settlement and we need to fight the Level 3 Kingsman. So this is likely the end of the road for this group. What a journey!
I had one survivor left. She was killed on the first turn: 5 hits, 3 to her body. Rough.
I am in the middle of a new campaign now. I added some of the expansions I picked up during the Kickstarter. Some extra variety and new monsters too face seemed like it would be fun. In hindsight I regret not picking up more expansions during the Kickstarter. I had avoided the Gorm, another monster you can fight in your first lantern year, and so a good alternative to the White Lion, because I thought the model looked so goofy. A mistake! That content would have been so useful now, as I find myself playing so much of this game.
Kingdom Death takes up a comical amount of space. Playing on the floor is back breaking, and i’m not sure why I’ve not just moved things down to a table ages ago. (I suppose being able to leave things set up if I like is nice) I started off with paper character sheets and a settlement record, as usual, but quickly found the setup unwieldy. Enter Scribe stage right, an electronic record keeper for the game. I don’t think I’d have been able to play as much as I did without it. I use Scribe plus physical gear grids to play and things work relatively well. Playing the game alone is still a challenge. It’s hard to keep track of everything each survivor can do, for example, but overall things work well.
One thing you lose playing alone is the having no one to commiserate with over terrible dice rolls, or cheer with when you manage to pull of something epic. The game is so swingy and punishing, its fun to experience that with others. Playing alone has felt more like playing a fancy board game than playing my earlier campaign with a group, that felt like a mix of game and RPG. In our first campaign we lost Evan’s character, our best surivour, to the dark dentist due to a bad dice roll. It was really funny, his character’s skull became a helmet we would wear for the rest of the campaign. A good moment, but not sound strategy!
Since I wrote my last review Kingdom Death has only gotten even more difficult to purchase. A shame. Though it sounds like a big re-print is coming in 2021. To quote myself once more:
It seems obnoxious to recommend people go buy a game famous for both being very expensive and also always out of stock. That said, you should find this game. I suspect if you like the junk I like—D&D, Dark Souls, fun, etc—then you’ll like this game.
I feel this even more acutely now. This board game is very expensive, an honest to god money hole. But, I think it’s worth that money if you are into these sorts of tactical boardgames. It’s such an interesting and compelling game, one that still feels fresh as I ready myself for my 58th game.